I walked down a narrow path which eventually opened up into a large clearing full of coconut trees and a neatly maintained garden. I was welcomed by Jinnah’s daughter Fathima who is the current managing trustee of IAB. She completed a degree in NGO management and had been keenly involved in the organization since its early beginnings. “When I was kid, I used to return back from school by 4:30 pm, throw my school bag and run to my father in the office. I used to observe him at work and sometimes used to play with the kids here.” She took me on a tour of the campus. I was wonder struck with the ease of the students working on excel and word in the computer lab. “We used Jaws software, which is text-to-speech software. When we type, we can hear the voice from the speaker hence we get to know if there is a mistake,” explains Vishal, the school’s computer trainer.
The children at the center have developed their own magazine for the visually challenged and subscriptions are available throughout Tamil Nadu. The center has a Braille Library as well. The books have been translated into Braille at the Braille manufacturing unit. These books are available to any school serving the visually impaired. Most of the employees are also visually impaired themselves. “60% of our committee members are visually impaired themselves and as well as more than half of our staff. After college, we train interested students and recruit them,” adds Fathima. In one of the classrooms I observed a girl teaching the class how to read a map and the organs of the body. All the equipment was in Braille. “Their life revolves around six dots in Braille, which are used for numbers, alphabets etc.” adds Nagasundari, the Programme Manager.
I then walked into the engineering unit of IAB where the students manufacture walking sticks as part of their vocational training. These sticks are later supplied to other schools in need. The Institute has a BPO centre where companies like Vodafone, Airtel etc. hire visually impaired students as customer service agents providing them with an employment opportunity.
The children participate in various activities like yoga, self-defense, sports, and even have a musical band of their own. Mr. Jinnah’s dream that began with four students has now expanded to touch the lives of over 300 students. IAB continues his endeavor to bring vision to the visually impaired, to give them hope and make them independent and strong.